Flexible Curriculum

The BBS curriculum gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of course subjects and formats to fulfill the Ph.D. degree requirements. Four courses, Analysis of the Biological Literature (BBS 230), Principles of Genetics (GEN 201), Principles of Molecular Biology (BCMP 200), and Principles of Cell Biology (CB 201) are required because they provide an experimentally-focused, graduate-level view of fundamental concepts critical for success in all areas of biological and biomedical research.These classes account for half of the 32 credits needed for graduation. The remaining 16 credits come from courses of the student’s choosing to fill knowledge gaps and explore areas of interest in more detail. Much of the BBS skill and core course content is supported by our outstanding group of curriculum fellows dedicated to innovating and maximizing the effectiveness of each class.


Assemble a curriculum that fits your goals


Skills Courses (4 credits each)


Analysis of the Biological Literature (BBS 230): Students participate in intensive small group discussions focused on the critical analysis of basic research papers from a wide range of fields including biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, genetics, and microbiology. Papers are discussed in terms of their background, significance, hypothesis, experimental methods, data quality, and interpretation of results. Students will be asked to propose future research directions, to generate new hypotheses and to design experiments aimed at testing them.


Critical Thinking and Research Proposal Writing (BBS 330): A small group tutorial systematically guiding students in the writing of original, hypothesis- or technology development-driven research proposals from initial topic selection through completion of a final draft.


Core Content Courses (4 credits each)


Principles of Genetics (GEN 201): An in-depth survey of genetics, beginning with basic principles and extending to modern approaches and special topics. Examples are drawn from a variety of experimental systems, including yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, mouse, human and bacteria.


Principles of Molecular Biology (BCMP 200): An advanced treatment of molecular biology and biochemical concepts critical for all biological researchers. Key concepts related to the molecular basis of information transfer from DNA to RNA to protein are covered, using examples from eukaryotic and prokaryotic systems. The course is taught in the format of lectures and research seminars and students meet in small groups of 6 students to discuss experimental design problems in an interactive chalk talk format.


Principles of Cell Biology (CB 201): An advanced course covering the molecular basis of cellular compartmentalization, protein trafficking, cytoskeleton dynamics, mitosis, cell locomotion, cell cycle regulation, signal transduction, cell-cell interaction, cell death, and cellular/biochemical basis of diseases. The course has a methodological focus on current approaches in cell biology including quantitative tools with an emphasis on experimental design.


Additional “Half” Courses (4 credits) and “Quarter” Courses (2 credits each)

“Half” courses (including the core courses) span an entire semester (~16 weeks or half the academic year) and “quarter” courses span half that (~7 weeks or one quarter of the academic year). Students choose from a range of half courses and quarter courses that are focused on topics of special interest to a particular research area. New courses are continually being developed and launched.  Browse the course catalog.


Nanocourses (3 nanos = 2 credits)

Nanocourses allow for maximal versatility in our curricular offerings at Harvard Medical School.  Nanocourses are 6-hour courses taught over two days, in which two to three (2-3) faculty members deliver highly specialized content.  Day 1 of each nanocourse is open to all members of the Harvard community.  Day 2 is designed for registered students of the class, where lecturers lead students through hands-on activities and assignments that allow practice of the content introduced in the previous session. The format of this second session is flexible, and may include discussion of relevant papers, brainstorming about future research, or other activities chosen by the course director to assess student progress. See some examples.


Boot camps (2 credits each)

Boot camp courses merge hands-on lab experience with lectures over a one to three week period. These courses typically run during the January term, and provide students the opportunity to interact with several different faculty in their labs spanning a range of experimental and biological topics. Most of the research communities that make up the BBS program organize or participate in one or more boot camps. A quantitative biology boot camp using MATLAB is also offered to incoming students in the summer prior to orientation. Learn more about boot camp courses.


Conduct of Science (Medical Sciences 300qc)

This is a discussion-based course covering topics on aspects of responsible conduct of research and the ethical and moral principles that underlie research. Training in the responsible conduct of science is a required part of the BBS PhD program in the Division of Medical Sciences.  Not only is such training a necessary element in the academic development of everyone who will become a responsible member of the scientific community, it is also mandated by the National Institutes of Health.  This requirement falls outside of (i.e. in addition to) 8 semester-long course equivalents needed for Ph.D. completion.


Teaching Requirement

The BBS program requires that each student fulfill one semester (60 hours, including preparation time) as a non-paid teaching assistant. As an alternative to being a TA, we have established the Community Education Initiative, which provides teaching opportunities for BBS students in secondary schools and after school programs in the Boston area. For more information on our TA requirement: http://www.hms.harvard.edu/dms/bbs/resources/documents/CommunityEdPacket.pdf


Additional Courses at Other Harvard Schools and Partner Institutions

In addition to the core content courses, a range of advanced course offerings are provided by the various departments and programs within Harvard Medical School. Students may also choose from many graduate-level courses offered at Harvard College in Cambridge, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and MIT. Browse the course catalog.


Curriculum Fellows

Curriculum Fellows (CFs) are PhD-level scientists pursuing careers focused on teaching, improving, and supporting science education. The CF Program functions as an educational laboratory that both researches and improves the learning experience for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees in the HMS community. Like postdoctoral fellows in a science lab, the CFs work with faculty members to bring new energy, creativity, and innovation to graduate and medical coursework. As trained research scientists, the CFs take a scientific approach to curricular redesign and course improvement, observing and identifying challenges, and then designing and implementing modifications. The CFs work together as a community, sharing their novel strategies for curricular revisions to promote integration across graduate courses and bringing their insights gleaned from current educational scholarship into HMS classrooms. Learn more about our CF program.


BBS Schedule-at-a-Glance


G1 Curriculum



G2 Curriculum


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of Harvard College